Skip to main content

Commons Amendments

Volume 385: debated on Thursday 14 July 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

2 Page 1, line 11, at end insert 'The Secretary of State, if requested to do so as regards any such area by the local authority concerned, shall so designate the area in question.'

3 Page 1, line 20, after 'State' insert '( a)'.

4 Page 2, line 1, after 'effect' insert'; and

(b) if requested by the local authority whose area is or contains the experimental area designated by such an order to extend or further extend the period for which the order is to have effect, shall so extend or further extend that period accordingly'

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 en bloc. I think, from the discussions which took place on this Bill in your Lordships' House, that your Lordships will agree that these provisions are, in a sense, unnecessary. As I made clear at the Committee stage, the Secretary of State would be prepared to consider designating experimental areas at the request of any local authority concerned which had proposals for experiments which fitted in with the basis on which we are working. Similarly, the Secretary of State would consider extending the period of an experiment, particularly one that is succeeding, at the local authority's request. However, the Government are disposed to accept the views expressed in another place about inserting these Amendments into the Bill. Your Lordships will appreciate that the Secretary of State retains control over the detail of experiments, since all authorisations under Clause 2(7) require his approval.

As I have explained previously, we ourselves have no proposals for further experiments of the present kind beyond those which will emerge from the studies that are going on in the four areas of the Government programme. As I said during Third Reading, we have not the resources to monitor and control a larger programme of experiments in depth. But, if any county council wishes to apply its resources to experiments of this kind in order to complement our own, we shall certainly be prepared to facilitate that, always providing that the proposed experiments would genuinely add to the kind of evidence that the Government programme has been set up to collect. As I explained during Third Reading, this Bill is not designed to bring about random patchwork modifications of licensing law right across the country, but to enable certain kinds of experiment to be carried out under carefully controlled conditions, to provide hard evidence that cannot otherwise be obtained. If any other county council not included in the experimental area wishes so to apply its resources and makes application to carry out similar experiments, we shall do all we can to get them off the ground.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments.—( Baroness Stedman.)

My Lords, as the noble Baroness has kindly explained to us, the Bill originally allowed experiments in only four areas. It was never made clear how those areas were decided and why their number was limited to four. The constraints on public expenditure were mentioned in this connection, but I know of councils—for example, Oxfordshire—which have devised schemes which, although experimental, would actually save the ratepayers money and yet provide effective services to those who need them.

Be that as it may, Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 allow any council to establish an experimental area if it wishes to do so. I do not understand the quibble of the noble Baroness when she says that the Minister may perhaps do so. It states quite categorically in Amendment No. 2 that—
"The Secretary of State, if requested to do so as regards any such area by the local authority concerned, shall so designate the area in question."
I notice that a Member in another place also seemed to have a slight quibble over this point. In addition, I should like to mention that my noble friend Lord Ridley and the Northumberland County Council were also interested in the possibility of using this sort of scheme.

These Amendments were, of course, the direct result of an Opposition victory in Committee in another place. The noble Baroness will recall that I raised the subject not only on Third Reading but just the other day on the White Paper. I welcome the fact that the Government have had the grace to accept this Opposition victory and have seen the force of our arguments. I hope that the noble Baroness will guarantee that the Government will be as good as their word and will speedily allow any council to set up an experimental area if it wishes to do so. The noble Baroness has said "Yes", but there seems to be a sort of caveat. I do not quite understand that, because, in the Bill, it appears to be absolutely clear and definite. Is the noble Baroness saying in effect, "Yes, they may have experimental areas, but totally at their own expense"? Where does it say that in the Bill, my Lords? I do not quite understand the quibble.

My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Lord opposite felt that I was quibbling. I was trying to explain that we have a limited budget on which to carry out these experiments. That budget will be absorbed by the four experiments detailed in the Bill; but, as a result of the action taken in another place, it has now been extended. It is possible for other counties to apply to have an experiment within their area, and we should welcome such experiments. What we want to make quite clear is that, at this stage, we have no money to assist them in such schemes and that we are not in a position, from this House, to offer more money for them.

My Lords, no doubt your Lordships will remember that, when we debated this Bill in Committee, I moved an Amendment very similar to the one which was passed in another place. I am only too happy that it was passed. I fully understand that, as the noble Baroness says, if there is no money it cannot be done; but it is nice to know that, as and when money is available, it will be possible to do these things. I strongly believe that the less control Whitehall has over local authorities, the better. In this connection, I should like to quote my honourable friend Mr. Penhaligon from Cornwall. He hit the nail on the head when he said in another place on 27th April, at column 1437 of the Official Report:

"With all respect to the Minister, I cannot believe that sorting out the bus services to Luxulyan, Tywardreath and other parts of my constituency, is what he is best qualified to do, while representing Gateshead and commuting to this place".
My Lords, I very much welcome the present Amendments.

On Question, Motion agreed to.